The hipster coffee trend, or specialty coffee trend if you so like, has swept through America like a storm in the past few years. Even Trader Joe’s offers a variety of different specialty blends and roasts, so how do you choose the best beans and brew the most perfect cup of coffee? After all, you want to impress that hipster date of yours, don’t you?
The Right Roast
You roast the coffee bean to bring out its flavor. What kind of roast you want depends on your taste buds and the amount of caffeine you want.
Light roast are often preferred for milder coffee varieties. Due to the shorter time of roasting, the oil won’t break through the surface of the beans. They are usually very acidic, though there are exceptions (I know because I use one exception for my business…). Light roasts are the ones with the most caffeine and are often referred to as Light City, Half City and Cinnamon.
Medium roasts are popular breakfast blends (and also referred to as city and American blends) and are slightly darker in color than the light roasts. However, there’s still no oil on the surface.
Medium dark roasts are often referred to as Full City and this is when the oil starts breaking through the surface of the beans and they have a darker, richer color. Medium dark roasts have a bittersweet after taste.
Dark roasts, are, as the name implies, dark in color (sometimes almost burnt) and very oily. These blends are more bitter, but less acidic. Of course, some specialist roasters have managed to reduce the bitterness of dark roasts, just as they’ve managed to reduce the acid in lighter roasts (again, I know this thanks to the supplier for my business in Cape Town…).
Dark roasts are often used for espresso and are the ones offered in Europe, hence they are referred to as Continental, European, Viennese, Italian, French, New Orleans (I assume thanks to the French bringing them there) and High.
The Right Beans
There’s only really one thing you need to know when it comes to beans: arabica is the superior variety. From there, it’s a matter of taste. There are so many varieties grown in so many different regions and you have to find what suits you.
Some coffees famous for their taste include the Blue Mountain (Jamaica), Kona Coffee (Hawaii) and Tunki Coffee (Peru). Kopi Luwak is also famous and the most expensive coffee on the market, but it has nothing to do with the taste being superior (though some claim it is), but rather that civets eat the beans and then poop them out, without destroying them, and those beans are cleaned up and used for coffee.
As there’s very little of this coffee available, it ends up very pricey and there’s a lot of fake Kopi Luwak on the market.
To brew coffee, to properly brew coffee, you need to grind it yourself so it’s 100% fresh. Ground coffee starts getting stale within 20 minutes of grinding, unless it’s vacuum packed, which, after you open that package, it’s not. Oh, and freshly roasted beans are preferred as well! Though roasted beans last longer than ground ones.
If you can’t find freshly roasted beans, or don’t have a grinder, Trader Joe’s has some interesting blends and you can grind them in the shop. If memory doesn’t fail me I do believe they have coffee grinders at Whole Foods as well, though not in all locations. There are many specialty coffee shops where they will grind the beans for you as well and where you can buy exactly the amount you need.
Storage – a dark cool place. Not the fridge, or freezer as it causes condensation when you take it in and out.
You need a scale, to ensure you get the right amount of coffee, and something to measure the water with, as well as a thermometer for the water. As for the water, you will want distilled or spring water. The quality of the water greatly affects the coffee, so you will need to play around with the water you use.
Of course, if you don’t care all that much about precision, you will get by with something to measure the ground coffee with (a scoop) and you can go without a thermometer.
The way to make an espresso is different from using a coffee machine (drip coffee, used for americanos and cafe au laits), a chemex (in lack thereof, do like we always did in the boat when I was a kid: pop a funnel in thermos, put in a coffee filter and some coffee, then pour boiling water over it), or a plunger/French press.
As I personally use a French press and am rather fond of the thing as it’s cheap, easy to use and even possible to use during power outs (if you can still heat the water), I shall explain how to brew the perfect cup of coffee using such.
A good thing about the French press is that, unlike a regular coffee machine, there’s no risk of over extracting the coffee (when you constantly add new water, this can be an issue). The French press is simply easy to use and produces great results.
For a French press you need a coarse grind. You can experiment with how coarse, but as a general rule you need to make sure it’s coarse enough that the coffee doesn’t escape the mesh filter (save from the fine powder, also known as “fines,” which you can’t avoid). If it tastes too weak, try grinding it a little finer and if it tasted “dish-raggy” a little coarser.
You will want 60-70 grams of coffee per liter of water. The (filtered) water should be boiled and then poured into the press. If you are brewing a dark roast, or decaf blend, you need the coffee to cool off by 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. You might also want to cool it off a little bit if you use a double walled French press as it retains heat better.
Once the water has been poured in, let it brew (lid off) for about 20-40 seconds, then stir it. When the coffee has sunk to the bottom again, after the stir, you can put the lid on.
From then on, it’s up to you – some people prefer to let it steep for 3-4 minutes, others for 6-8 minutes (especially if the beans are quite coarsely ground).
After it’s brewed, you have to plunge…that’s to say, push the plunger down. Do this gently, or you’ll end up with a bitter cup of coffee. Serve directly.
Coffee is a lot about personal taste. I once dated a guy who thought Dunkin Donuts made the perfect cup of coffee, because he was raised on it. I doubt people “in the know” would agree, though I could be wrong. The thing is, it’s your taste buds and whilst they will greatly develop once you start experimenting with coffee, you still have to find what works for you, not for everyone else.